Search Personalization and PPC Search Marketing

Google, Yahoo, and MSN have all rolled out some level of personalized SERPs (define), particularly in the results’ algorithmic portions. This personalization movement represents not only a search evolution but also a search revolution. Search engines are struggling to gain market share from one another.

Google’s number one because when it launched in 1997, its PageRank algorithm was noticeably better than competitors’ algorithms. Since then, Yahoo, MSN, even Ask Jeeves (with Teoma) have significantly narrowed the relevance gap. But the relevance war between the engines is continuously thwarted by several factors:

  • Ever-increasing amounts of site content where pages are poorly categorized, themes not identified, and copy not SEO (define) friendly

  • Increasingly more poor-quality content that’s search-engine optimized by marketers and search engine optimizers looking to gain highly valuable positions and traffic from search
  • Searcher disagreement about specific sites’ and pages’ relevance for a specific search

Due to its popularity, Google has received the most continuous and malicious onslaught of SEO spam. It’s also had to be the most aggressive in algorithmic changes to shake as many poor-quality results from the top of its SERPs. All engines continue to work to better identify high-quality content, while flagging content of clearly inferior quality.

The true challenge lies in the fact searchers don’t all agree the same SERP is superior for a query. One reason searchers use more than one search engine is to compare results. The search engines must find ways to identify what different searchers want in a SERP. Having all the data in the index isn’t enough. The key lies in floating the most relevant results for each searcher to the top of the SERP. That’s the essence of personalization.

Amazon.com is a firm believer the best user experience is the one tuned to the user’s needs, so it’s A9.com had an early interest in personalization. Once A9 starts to profile and personalize, everyone’s user experience is slightly different.

The engines may begin to take into account factors that likely affect SERP content preference, including:

  • Age

  • Gender
  • Geography
  • Previous search behavior (what you looked for 10-20 minutes ago may relate to what you’re looking for now)
  • Previous click behavior (clicked-on paid or organic listings can help the engine understand what your specific interests in the search relate to)
  • Affinity for, or aversion to, paid results
  • Operating system
  • ISP

Personalized search will dramatically affect paid search marketers. The engines all want better-targeted ad listings. Most ads are CPC (define). The more targeted the ad, the higher the yield (CTR x bid). With personalization, the concept of paid placement by keyword practically disappears, particularly for listings that are more likely to be clicked on by a specific profile.

Search engines are paid by the click (your invoices show up with CPCs), but they all want to generate the highest effective CPM (define) on each and every search. Let’s say male searchers over 40 in the Northeastern U.S. are more likely to respond positively to a Circuit City listing and a “PC Magazine” review after searching for “pioneer hdtv” than a Best Buy or Overstock listing. You can bet the engines would figure out how to adapt their algorithms (both paid and organic) to get the additional clicks personalizing and refining the SERP deliver. Clicks correlate with happy searchers.

MSN, for example, has a unique additional solution in the works. Recognizing marketers may want to reach specific searchers by age or gender and may be willing to pay a premium, the upcoming adCenter PPC auction system will enable marketers to bid boost against certain parameters.

Google already allows marketers to geo-target campaigns, which essentially personalizes ad targeting geographically. Google has also been experimenting with CPM auctions within the contextual network. Though CPM auctions might not make it into the main search areas, allowing marketers to segment, then pay a premium, will likely be an outgrowth of search personalization.

As marketplaces get better at pairing advertiser listings with searcher intent, smaller marketers may be unable to deal with the additional complexity of thousands of keyword ads (search and contextual) that can also be targeted by geography, gender, age, and perhaps even behavioral factors. These marketers may need to partner with specialists and technologists to attack the marketplace with advanced analytics and campaign management. Many marketers still haven’t gotten their arms around the existing search advertising and contextual auction marketplaces.

We may soon be faced with an even more complex, yet more powerful, search landscape. Your ability to maneuver nimbly and strategically through the auctions while targeting the best customers is becoming more important. Don’t get stuck with an outdated strategy. Think how better ad personalization and targeting will affect your campaigns. Evaluate what changes in strategy or technology will provide you an edge over the competition.

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